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Lab Workers Possibly Exposed to Anthrax

June 11, 2004|From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — At least six workers developing an anthrax vaccine at a children's hospital research lab in Oakland might have been accidentally exposed to the deadly bacterium because of a shipping foul-up, officials reported Thursday.

Officials at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute said that none of the researchers had shown symptoms since the first potential exposure about two weeks ago but that each was on a precautionary 60-day regimen of antibiotics.

The researchers believed that they were working with syringes full of dead anthrax, hospital spokeswoman Bev Mikalonis said. Instead, she said, they were shipped live anthrax by a lab of the Southern Research Institute in Frederick, Md.

Mikalonis said the hospital was taking a "better safe than sorry" approach, and doctors weren't sure that the researchers had been exposed. The liquid anthrax went directly from syringes into lab mice, she said.

Other workers may have been exposed while the researchers handled the anthrax, Mikalonis said, a possibility that federal, state and local officials were investigating.

Though the six workers were possibly exposed, state health officials and the hospital believe that no one was infected, because researchers took proper precautions.

The incident doesn't pose a threat to patients because the Oakland lab is about a mile from the hospital, according to officials.

The researchers are working with dead bacteria to develop an anthrax vaccine for children. Mail-borne anthrax killed five people and sickened 17 others in 2001. Although no one has been arrested for those killings, they spurred research into better vaccines and treatments.

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